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Studies indicate that infants in our culture are exposed to significant amounts of TV, often as a baby-sitting strategy by busy caretakers. The question arises whether TV viewing merely presents infants with a salient collection of moving patterns or whether they will readily pick up information depicted in this 2-D representation and incorporate it into their own behavior. Can infants "understand" the content of television enough to govern their real-world behavior accordingly? One way to explore this question is to present a model via television for infants to imitate. Infants' ability to imitate TV models was explored at 2 ages, 14 and 24 months, under conditions of immediate and deferred imitation. In deferred imitation, infants were exposed to a TV depiction of an adult manipulating a novel toy in a particular way but were not presented with the real toy until the next day. The results showed significant imitation at both ages, and furthermore showed that even the youngest group imitated after the 24-hour delay. The finding of deferred imitation of TV models has social and policy implications, because it suggests that TV viewing in the home could potentially affect infant behavior and development more than heretofore contemplated. The results also add to a growing body of literature on prelinguistic representational capacities. They do so in the dual sense of showing that infants can relate 2-D representations to their own actions on real objects in 3-D space, and moreover that the information picked up through TV can be internally represented over lengthy delays before it is used to guide the real-world action.
Child Development © 1988 Society for Research in Child Development